Sweet Jesus, I would not inflict a thinkpiece on you; this will not be that. (The post-celebrity death thinkpiece is the internet equivalent of the tribute show all-star jam. Discuss.) Even if I were smart enough to have the deep thoughts required to write one, I’m utterly unqualified to write one about Prince: I was–and am–a casual fan at best, but due to the dice throw of birthdates, my life has been permeated by his.
Purple Rain is perfect, or maybe I’ve just listened to it so many times that I’ve convinced myself of the fact, and 1999 and Sign O’ The Times and Graffiti Bridge for some strange reason were in regular rotation, but I lost track of him in the 90’s. Prince sort of lost track of himself in the 90’s, too, so that lessens the betrayal. Checked in on him now and then. Never saw him live. I’d get around to it.
Which is to say that I’m not qualified to comment on him: I had no life-changing revelations to Lovesexy, nor did Prince teach me any lessons about being different during a difficult childhood. If you’re going to be serious about the man, then you should know his music, and know it in the format he was so obstinate about (albums). I can’t discuss the important stuff about the guy; I don’t have the bona fides; my boner doesn’t have the fidelity.
Countries get colors. Holidays get colors. Nowadays, multinational corporations get colors. People don’t get colors; Prince had a color.
Prince created terrible music to be melancholy to: the man’s songs are absolutely wrong for grieving. I’m aching for a poignant sentence and a swiftly-navigated phrase, something beautiful and morose, and Prince and his incredible (all-female) band from his 2015 tour are playing Party Man from the Batman ’89 movie. (I cannot recommend this show enough: go to one of those shady foreign places and look for it.)
There are a few sad songs–Purple Rain, obviously, and Sometimes it Snows in April and others–but mostly Prince fixated on sex and Jesus, which makes him no different from any other songwriter; Prince just liked Sex and Jesus so much more than anyone else, and in such entertaining and odd ways.
There was a guy who lived across the hall at Charlesgate, the haunted Freshman dorm I got thrown out of, who was a Prince superfan. He had the coat. The one you’re thinking of now. And now you’re wondering if it looks good on a shlubby 18-year-old. It did not. Only Prince could wear Prince clothes, and so this kid–was his name Brian?–was an object of gentle amusement. He didn’t mean any harm: he loved something so much he couldn’t keep it to himself.
I hope he’s okay.
By the time he was 23 or 24, Prince was Prince, with all that entails. (Entailed. I keep using the present tense.) He got the Full Elvis: the compound, the entourage, the world operating on his schedule. What else could he have done? Even when he wasn’t selling records like he used to, Prince was still spectacularly famous; he would have been mobbed in public. Prince didn’t have celebrity, he had fame. People smile and sneak peaks when a celebrity enters the room; people lost their damn minds when they saw Prince.
And, of course, he was a tiny little guy, but he got himself the biggest bodyguards he could find, and built the studio in his house, and that took care of that. People opened up their businesses for him at two in the morning; he wouldn’t go clubbing, he would rent the place out and have the local modelling agency send over a hundred girls. Their cell phones would be confiscated at the entrance.
Rick James and Cameo and Kool & the Gang were once considered Prince’s rivals. Swear to God.
Prince adds another brick the foundation of the Bobby Rule, which is this: Attractive people can wear damn near anything and make it work. A pretty face and skinny hips open up avenues of fashion closed to the goobers, fat-asses, or the dumpy. Now, Bobby never wore an bright-yellow, assless catsuit onstage, but not for lack of trying. (He almost got around Parish, but Billy tripped him and Bobby had to go back to the dressing room and put on his short-shorts.)
He had a band called Champagne as a teenager–with Morris Day on drums–and then there was the Revolution, who contributed a fair amount to Prince’s oeuvre (such as the opening chords to the song Purple Rain), and then the Lovesexy band and the New Power Generation and whatever he was calling his latest band when he died, but all of them were quite decidedly his backup band. No one was looking to the guy in the surgical scrubs for musical cues.
And he gave a lot of them: I’ve not listened to any of his albums since his death, just the live stuff. That show from Rotterdam in ’88, and the Detroit ’15 I mentioned before, and a disturbingly good show from ’92: throughout the years, the constant is the tightness. Prince rehearsed his bands to within an inch of their lives: they rip through medleys with the precision and power of an industrial press WHAM from one song to another, but stay loose enough to follow Prince’s lead and shouted cues in and out of jams.
If Prince had ever jammed with the Dead, and they had blown the transition back into Playin’ like they did occasionally, his little purple head would have exploded.
Jehovah’s Witnessdom (that’s not right) is one of your dumber religions. Someone always corrects me when I say something like this, arguing that all religions are equally dumb; I maintain my position. Jehovah’s Witnessicism contains exactly as much stupid bullshit as all the other religions, true, but it also has the blood transfusion thing. Belief system full of nonsense>Belief system full of nonsense that contains a line in the code that’ll kill you. (There’s also the ban on birthday and holiday celebration, but those are just quirks: the “no blood” thing is actively dangerous.)
I think the story goes that his religious awakening came around the time he shelved The Black Album due to a bad experience with ecstasy. (Only Prince could have a bad experience on ecstasy. Prince’s day-to-day life was so ecstatic that the drug actually lowered his amount of ecstacism, sending him into a funk. And not the good kind, with a horn section.)
Witnesses take proselytizing as a pillar of their faith, and Prince followed the rule. He would bring Larry Graham with him, because of course he did. (I’m sure there was a bodyguard hiding behind a tree a few feet away.) Preaching the word and selling The Watchtower.
There would be a knock on the door, and you would open it and look out, and then you would look down, and there would be Prince. And, you know, Larry Graham, but the moment is mostly about Prince.
“Hello. Do you have a moment? A moment for me?I need you. To listen to me about JEEEEEEEEEEEsus.”
“Oh, hi, Larry Graham!”
And so on.
The video of him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame completely upstaging a bunch of old white guys is electrifying, but the analysis and over-valuation of it says something about scarcity’s role in culture and criticism. Thanks to Prince’s policy towards YouTube (“Throw lawyers at it until it goes away,”) there are only three or four performances readily available: the George Harrison song, the show from the Cap, the halftime show.
That said, a lot happens in that video. Hell, let’s watch it again:
Celebrating a man’s prowess as a swordsman might best be done in the Problem Attic nowadays, but the fact remains: Prince dated some of the most beautiful women in the world. The rest of them, he just had sex with.
Prince does quite a bit of yelling at the light and sound guys during his shows, and that might be the one tiny slice of show business in which the Dead were more professional than Prince. (One of Prince’s high school teachers said that the only class young Prince Rogers Nelson took seriously was accounting. No one ever stole Prince’s money and fled to Mexico.)
It should be said that he doesn’t so much yell as sing angrily, and since it’s Prince doing it, it sounds magical. I don’t know if I would listen to Prince read the phone book, but I would listen to him yell at his lighting crew. It’s what I’m currently doing.
When Prince replace “be” and “you” with “b” and “u,” he was saving himself time, but when he spelled “I” as “eye,” he was putting artificial roadblocks in his way.
I was a casual fan at best, and there was time to get reacquainted with him, but now we’re all so goddamned old.